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Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne: What It Can and Cannot Do

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When it comes to treating acne, benzoyl peroxide is a genie in the bottle. No, seriously, we are speaking about one of the most effective ingredients. So, no wonder it’s a dermatologist’s favorite! If you are struggling with breakouts, this is something it can help you get things under control. But hold on! You don’t want to start slathering on the wrong formula or concentration. So, be patient, and let me explain to you all you need to know about benzoyl peroxide.

What is benzoyl peroxide?

Benzoyl peroxide is a chemical compound used as a medication and a water disinfectant. So, it is good to mention that it is on the WHO List of Essential Medicines. As a medication, it’s the most famous for battling acne, and it’s available as gels, cleansers, and spot treatments. There’s a lot of research and data around the effects of benzoyl peroxide on acne, and this article covers all of them.

The benefits of benzoyl peroxide

“Benzoyl peroxide destroys the bad bacteria. And that is how it prevents breakouts on your skin. Plus, it minimizes oil production and sheds pore-clogging dead skin cells. Further, it reduces the redness and swelling linked with inflammatory pimples,” the dermatologist Meri Aleksoska explained. 


Studies have shown that benzoyl peroxide works better than topical tretinoin for inflammatory acne and has been well established as a common medication for acne. Other researchers have analyzed 120 clinical trials about benzoyl peroxide, with more than 29,000 participants suffering from mild, moderate, and severe acne. They’ve concluded that benzoyl peroxide is an effective treatment for both inflammatory and noninflammatory acne, and it may work better than adapalene, clindamycin, or salicylic acid.

I bet you noticed that it targets all the principal causes of acne. Thus, it pretty much gets your skin clear! But does it has limitations? Firstly, let’s see what kind of acne benzoyl peroxide is treating.

Inflammatory acne

Benzoyl peroxide is effective in treating inflammatory acne as it can kill acne-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation. You know, those red bumps that carry pustules, papules, cysts, and nodules? Yeah, benzoyl peroxide is much more effective for them than for whiteheads and blackheads.

Noninflammatory acne 

You might have heard that blackheads and whiteheads are classified as noninflammatory. It’s because they don’t lead to red bumps. If you’re dealing with one or both types and wonder if benzoyl peroxide can help you, the answer is maybe. Although some studies have shown that benzoyl peroxide may reduce noninflammatory acne, topical retinoids are still considered more effective, as they reduce the number of comedones, making them useful against noninflammatory lesions. 

Severe acne

If you are battling cystic acne, you know you’re fighting the most severe form of acne. Why is it like that? Because these pimples may have fluid deep inside them, it’s tough to recognize any visible heads. The hard bumps are below the surface of your skin, they hurt, and it takes one or two days for them to come out as pimples and stay there for days, sometimes weeks. But good as it is, benzoyl peroxide cannot do this alone. For this type of acne, you need to consult a dermatologist. They will prescribe you medication, which you can probably use in combination with benzoyl peroxide.

Acne scars

So, you have fortunately obtained away from the wish to touch your lesions. But you still ended up with scars, which btw you can minimize with a dermaroller. What about benzoyl peroxide? In theory, it could help swamp dead skin cells and turn the scars less noticeable. Still, no research supports the use of benzoyl peroxide on acne scars, so there’s no enough data to draw a conclusion.


The side effects

Any medicines can cause side effects, and benzoyl peroxide is no exception. What you could experience is dry, red, or peeling skin. And skin irritation such as burning or stinging. “If you have hypersensitive or dry skin, I would suggest a slow start. Maximum, you could apply it every other day. And make sure that the layer is thin,” doctor Meri stated.

You must stop using benzoyl peroxide if your skin becomes swollen or you get blisters. Besides, you might become more sensitive to the sun. So, again, use sunscreen and wear protective clothing. And avoid tanning booths and sunlamps! 

Of note, benzoyl peroxide can inactivate tretinoin and make it less stable and thus should not be used at the same time. It is better to use benzoyl peroxide in the morning and tretinoin at night. There are newer formulations of tretinoin (micronized tretinoin gel, tretinoin gel microsphere) and other types of topical retinoids (adapalene) that are not affected by benzoyl peroxide and thus can be used in combination. [source]

How to use it?

Remember when I mentioned that it comes in various forms? Yeah, so you must decide what you like and what is good for your skincare routine. The rules of applying it will depend on whatever you are using it for your body or for your face. But all that is the beauty of the options! If you use it as acne cream or lotion, put it on daily, either just in the mornings or both mornings and evenings. You don’t need to use it only as a treatment, but preventive measures as well. So, covering the whole area of the skin is fine. This goes as also for face washes and foams. But if you choose gel, pay attention that concentration is higher. Thus, apply it only to the affected spots. Also, it is worth mentioning that benzoyl peroxide can stain clothing and hair. Thoroughly wash your hands after each use.

What percentage of benzoyl peroxide is best for you?

The first thing you must be aware of is that a higher concentration doesn’t necessarily mean better results. Now with that in mind, know that the strengths differ from 2.5 percent to 10 percent. What do the studies say? 2.5 or 5 percent benzoyl peroxide often works just as well as 10 percent, but with less irritating side effects. What did we learn from this? Always start with a low dosage. Later you can work your way up if your skin needs and can tolerate it.

Who should use it?

“I recommend it for dealing with acne. Still, everyone’s skin is different, so it may not work for you. Give it several weeks, and if there is no effect, move to another product. Generally, it is safe for all, apart from if you are allergic. Also, if you are pregnant, use it only when clearly needed. It is yet unknown whatever it passes into breast milk,” doctor Meri advised.

The bottom line

If you are still here, that means that you recognize yourself as someone who needs benzoyl peroxide. For sure, it is just one of many options available for treating acne. But, if you ask me, you should definitely try it and see how it goes. Remember that treating inflamed acne can seldom seem to be an impossible task. In that case, don’t be desperate but adopt a simple skincare routine with an oil-free moisturizer, gel-based cleanser, and benzoyl peroxide spot treatment.

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